Surrounded by highland valleys, fields full of corn, pine forest and dozens of traditional Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages, San Cristóbal is the heart of one of the most deeply rooted indigenous areas in Mexico. Enjoy yourself for days wandering around San Cristóbal’s center. But want to explore more of the surrounding highland’s? Check out our favorite to-do’s.
San Juan Chemula and Zinancatan
Chemula and Zinancatan are two indigenous villages close to San Cristóbal. 75% of Chiapas’ populous is made up of indigenous peoples. Chiapas’ indigenous people live within nine distinct communities, each with its own language, traditions, costumes, belief systems, patron saint, spiritual leaders and rituals that create a complete and distinct culture. Chemula is home to a fiercely independent Tzotzil community. The Tzotzil Maya are one of the largest indigenous groups in Chiapas, making up roughly one third of the state’s indigenous population. The Tzotzil culture is submissive by western standards: women always follow behind the men; men chop the firewood, but women carry it; you will never see a woman wearing a hat. Like other indigenous communities in this region, the clothes they wear can identify them: the women wear traditional dresses and the men wear black or white wool tunics that are belted around the waist. The women dress in embroidered huipils (blouses) made of cotton or satin blouses, shawls and long black linen skirts.
In the early morning curvy mountain roads take us to Chemula and Zinancatan. The mountaintops are covered in mist, which creates mystic scenery. We start off the day by visiting a weaving house. The place is covered by traditional and colourful dresses, sweaters and blankets. While watching the women weave, we get an inside look into the craft which a lot of women in the area depend on. Afterwards we are spoiled with a delicious Mayan home cooked meal.
A must visit when you go to Chemula is the Cathedral San Juan Bautista, the big church on the town square. The religion is a mixture of Catholicism and Maya Ritual. The people revere St John the Baptist above Jesus Christ; St John’s image is more prevalent inside the church. As I enter the church the first thing I notice is the smell pine needles that cover the entire floor of the curch. The sight of what seem to be a million lit candles on the altars and on the floor amazes me. Normally chills come over me when I enter churches, but it’s different now. A warm feeling comes over me and this feeling makes me want to explore more. There are people all around us doing beautiful praying rituals, which are a blend of pre-Hispanic traditions with Catholicism. Some of which use eggs, bones and a-live chickens that are sacrificed in the church and later eaten as a sacred meal or buried in front of the homes of the sick. People kneel on the floor in front of candles while chanting songs to pray for better harvests. Some drink sugarcane rum while they are praying, because it’s believed that while drunk they can communicate better with the saints. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures inside the church, you will have to see for yourself how extraordinary this exerience is!
As you wander through this region, expect to see a world far removed from anything you expect in a developed country. You’ll see men and women working the fields providing for their families. The living here is simple: women wake up early to cook and tend to family needs: men go out to chop firewood, ready for their wives to collect it, and later will work the fields. When you want to explore the area it is advised to take good, knowledgeable local guide who will be able to share important insights and local knowledge with you. It is essential to get the most out of a visit to this region. For quality tours with experienced guides check out Nichim Tours.
This is a must-do activity when visiting San Cristóbal de las Casas. And that’s for a good reason. It’s an extremely beautiful place, it’s not too far to reach, and it’s an inexpensive excursion from San Cristóbal de las Casas.
A 45-minute drive takes us to the docks on the Grijalva river, where our adventure begins. We jump on a boat and as we ride off, wind starts blowing through my hair and I sit back and enjoy the view. This impressive wonder of mother nature has walls that go up to a thousand meters. As we ride through the canyon birds of prey and pelicans fly above us and schools of black birds try to keep up with the speed of the boat. After an hour or so we stop at what seems to be a sight from Lord of the Rings. A waterfall comes out of the middle of the canyon, creating a world of life underneath it. As we come closer I feel like we stepped into a fairy land.
Chiapas by plane
For an absolutely amazing experience, explore Chiapas from high in the sky. See the rugged landscape from above, marvel at the bluest lakes you’ve ever seen and fly across the boarder of Guatemala. We stopped at two archeological zones, in Comitan we climbed and stroled along the ancient buildings almost by ourselves. It felt so good when we flew over a dense green jungle, to see only nature as far as our eyes can reach and to realise this covers a huge part of Chiapas. We flew over immens waterfalls and through a narrow canyon, it was just like in the movie. This is definitely one of the best experiences we’ve had in Mexico! Check out Chiapas desde el Cielo for various tours to different archeological sites.